Trainer Richie Stephenson rates Azzaland the fastest horse he’s trained and is hopeful a few winter carnival options will emerge if the sprinter overcomes a distance hoodoo in the Listed Bribie Handicap at Doomben.
Azzaland made a stunning winning comeback for apprentice Norifumi Yamada over 1000 metres at Eagle Farm on April 2 but will be ridden by the experienced Shane Scriven in Saturday’s 1200-metre feature.
Azzaland spent more than a year recovering from surgery to remove spurs from both front legs following his impressive victory at Eagle Farm in January last year.
The six-year-old underwent revolutionary treatment, often used in the United States, which is designed to stimulate white blood cells to produce enzymes to help reduce inflammation following surgery.
Stephenson’s immediate thoughts following the gelding’s return to form focused on the Listed Lightning Handicap (1000m) at Eagle Farm in June.
With a record of 11 wins from 18 starts over short courses, the Lightning was the logical target for Azzaland during the winter but a forced decision to run in the Bribie Handicap may open a few other options.
“I hadn’t planned to run him in the Bribie but I couldn’t find any suitable races for him,” Stephenson said.
“He’s never won over 1200 metres but if he can win this time it’ll open a few more avenues for him.
“I could have waited and run him in a Benchmark 87 over 1000 metres in three weeks but I rang the handicapper who told me he’d get 64 kilos.”
Stephenson believes Azzaland is in great order for his attempt to break his 1200-metre hoodoo.
The son of Za-Im has started only twice previously over the trip and faded badly both times.
“If the track is good and there’s no rain he’ll run a big race,” Stephenson said.
“He’s in great order and has taken a lot of improvement from his first-up win.
“He’s older and more mature now but I would prefer not to see him leading.
“I’d rather him take a sit if we can find a leader in the race.
“The Lightning is still a long way off and if he gets 1200 metres then I can start looking at more of them (options) down the track.”
Stephenson’s biggest concern with Azzaland is the forecast for rain.
“I heard we’re supposed to get between 50 and 60 millimetres of rain on Friday night and it’s supposed to increase on Saturday,” he said.
“Rain is the last thing he wants and I hope the forecast is wrong.”